Sunday, October 19, 2014

DF Felltower Languages

So what languages do I have in my DF game?

I've studied linguistics, but what I find fascinating about languages would bore my players, so none of that shows here. It's purely color, and it's surprisingly easy to get good at languages in Felltower. It's mostly grossly simple stuff.

Common: The main language of the area. Not actually called Common but I haven't named it. It surprisingly matches English word for word. Odd, that. Alphabetical writing.

Dwarvish/Dwarven: A defunct language. It's like Yiddish in East Coast US English - it's not a language so much as words that pepper speech. You can learn it and use it, especially to read older dwarven books, but it's not a common means of communication anymore. Might be worth schlepping a Dwarven dictionary with you, but it might not. Only your dwarven grandmother uses this anymore, and whichever thing you call it - Dwarven, or Dwarfish - is the term she doesn't use and it breaks her heart to hear you say it that way. Rune-like writing.

Elder Tongue: An old language, out of current use. Used back in the day by evil wizards, ancient scholars, and still used today by ancient beings, usually of great evil. Not a great way to impress your local clergy, who might report you to the Inquisitors if you walk around showing you know this. Of course some Inquisitors will know it well, to better fight their enemies! Ancient magic books are often written in this language. Wizards sometimes (okay, often) learn this in its written form only, to read forbidden texts and learn dark secrets.

Elvish: A lyrical, beautiful language, with lots of gentle and extended sounds. Used by elves.

Goblin: A fast, liquid language - tonal, like Mandarin. Fluid script, like Thai, Arabic, or Burmese. Used by goblins, largely, and some humans who trade with goblins.

Gnomic: The language of gnomes, this is a very difficult language to follow, deliberately obscure. It's full of ambiguous terms and pithy aphorisms and maxims and sayings, none of which are really clear. It almost seems like gnomes are trying to not communicate with you. Or each other.

Halflinglish: Another "dead" language. Mostly its terms survive in halfling speech in Common much as dwarven terms are used in dwarven speech. Its written form is very obscure and mostly shows up in cookbooks, housekeeping advice books, and halfling mafia coded messages.

Molotovian: The dialect of common spoken in the troll-plagued east.

Orcish: A harsh, guttural language that has more swear words than any two other languages combined. Mostly used by orcs, ogres, trolls, and other folks who socialize with orcs. The written form is crude but workable.

So far, that's it. There are hints of other languages, and some races clearly speak their own, but they haven't been named or described yet. No one knows what the six-fingered beings speak, for example, and no one tried to talk to the lizardmen (who have civilization but lack telepathy, so they must have some kind of speech.) Lots of underdwellers use one or more of the above. Gargoyles often speak common, for example, although it's not clear why. Others use Orcish or Goblin, depending on who they hang out near.


  1. In my world the elves, trolls and dwarves speak Norse because that is the cosmology that they came from. They use runes as a written language. Languages are gifts from the gods and elves, trolls and dwarves are servitor races of the Norseason gods they speak Norse. Gnomes speak Latin and halflings speak English and leprechauns speak Old Irish. Languages are the way the gods speak to their people and the creatures they create help to reinforce this. I also have an Elder language but no one can truly understand this because they will go insane. Most wizards only know enough to cast Elder Spells and even then it is dangerous to do so.

    1. I like that. I considered making the Elder Tongue a little more dangerous, but decided it's just not in the flavor of the game we're playing. What you can read with it might be dangerous, but it's like Lockpicking - sometimes, unlocking that door was a bad idea, but the skill itself is penalty-neutral.

  2. I've had a lot of problems trying to figure out what do to about languages in DF. On one hand I don't like that you can't play a Elf Scout or whatever that actually speaks an Elvish language (well you can but then you can't speak anything else). On the other hand, maybe Kromm is right and it's a) a waste of points and b) nobody cares that their elf can't speak any elf languages anyway. On third ectoplasmic tentacle, I find that players do actually want their ethnic and foreign characters to speak Ethnically Foreign (Native).

    As a compromise, I have been letting everybody take a background language as native and then having "Common" be a trade polyglot that all other languages default to at Accented (and cannot be improved).

    I found that I don't like this either, because it means that there really isn't any reason for even Bards, Scholars, Clerics, Wizards and whatever else actually has Languages on the template to take any, because everything they want to speak to also has Common (Accented).

    I'm thinking about rebooting my DF game (it's a pickup thing anyway) with all the "lessons-learned" changes I want to make (and yes a megadungeon; you've infected me) but I still can't decide what I'm doing about languages.

    I'm considering putting together low-point "background" lenses (maybe 10 points?) and giving players a point bucket just for that over and beyond the 250 for the template and lenses.

    1. Why can't then spend Quirk points on Common? That's how the gnome and goblin in my game did it. Racial language for 0, then purchased the other language. I just made sure it's well worth the points.

    2. Yeah, that works! It's also very simple too! Thanks!

  3. "I've studied linguistics, but what I find fascinating about languages would bore my players"

    I know the feeling. My MA thesis was heavy on numismatics. But introducing detailed coinage systems is a guaranteed way to make my players' eyes glaze over.

    1. Even the monetary system I find mildly interesting is too complex for some of my players. :)

  4. Ok one more thing I will never again do in my games. No Dwarvern, Elvish, goblin racial languages.

    Sure there's Swedish etc in the real world mostly spoken by one group of people in one country, but theres also French and Spanish spoken by people in diverse countries that only have history as an explanation.

    Theres also places like Belgium where a common language is not fundamental.

    So if I have Dwarves in my setting then you bet the east coast ones who seperated 10000 years ago arent just going to have a different dialect they are going to have a distinct (even though historically related) language. And maybe it will be more influenced by the local halfing village they trade with. (Think something like the phillipones here where counting in Spanish or English can be as common as Philipino)

    And maybe one of the reasons the orcs/goblins cant get unified is they dont have a common language. Maybe the big orc chieftain is actually trying to force his language on the subservient tribes to unify an actual nation. Or maybe hes just decided to use the equivalent of English.

    1. I know that racial languages rally bother people - but I see them the same as ethnic languages. There isn't any special reason why all dwarves wouldn't have the same language, especially in a world with wide communication powers and actual gods that interfere with things. A dwarven or elven or orcish language makes as much sense as geographical and political division based languages do to me. But like I said, I know that bothers some people. So does "Common."

    2. In my game world there are different types of dwarves and elves from different cosmolgies. There are the Norse ones, there are Russian ones, the are English ones and so on. Not only do they have different languages and cultures, they also have different traits. They are not related either because they were created by different pantheon of gods.

    3. The Norse elves and dwarves are the creations of the Norse gods so these elves and dwarves also worship Norse gods like Odin, Thor, Frey and Freya etc. The Norse elves and dwarves will also align with the Norse people in the event of an attack from a powerful force. The trolls will desire to align against the gods however, except for Loki and the giants. The Norse dwarves and elves are family memembers of the Norse cosmology and even though they may fight each other they are more loyal to their family than to outsiders.

    4. Lets think it out. If the world is at all like our world languages will be incredibly divided especially by even minor geographical blocks, like a mountain range. So much so that a small group in the middle of an empire may still speak their own language. Thats good for ethnicity too, if theres an Elvish ghetto in the city the language can survive there just as well.

      What breaks down language differences? Empire. TV. Tourism. Immigration. Commerce. Thats about it in the real world though a regime might modernise their language too.

      Fantasy worlds have those reasons (minus television) and magic/deities to go along with it.

      I have the least problem with 'common' if the old empire spread 'latin' then having common be the successor languages is fine.

      If you want to say that deities preserve their races true language I guess thats fine except youre kind of saying a wizard did it (or in this case, the gods did it).

  5. As my game setting is partially derived from a long running game set on Yrth and sort of a variant medevial France, common is Aralaise, the lower classes and thieves speak Argot (I use Cockney accents for it) the neighboring Hetlands to the East speak a slavonic tongue called Shevnian, Elves speak elvish, Dwarves dwarven, goblins speak goblin orcs speak orcish (I use another slavonic language when pcs overhear it) and one set of enslaved goblins speak broken eldrich (like your elder tongue) and elvish from their overseers. I have magical texts in Latin, Greek and Eldrich.
    To the west, Arabic and Valdassyan are spoken, and imperial families all speak Latin. Most PC's have only one or two languages, with the exception of those built as wizards, sages and agents.

  6. For elves and dwarves, who have their own tongues in my world, I came up with a package to give them their tongues, give them skill in the human tongue (which I call Mannish), and make them feel like outsiders. This is for the elves; Linquénōr is the elvish land:

    Cultural Familiarity (Linquénōr) [0]; Cultural Familiarity (Middle Mankind) [1]; Language: Elvish (Native/Native) [0]; Language: Mannish (Accented/Accented) [4]; Social Stigma (Outsider) [-5].

    Treat Social Stigma (Outsider) the same as Social Stigma (Minority Group), but
    all penalties and bonuses are halved, and the mood is more mistrust than mislike.


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